The sensory web is not my idea, it came from a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel I read years ago about a blind Andorian girl in the care of a Vulcan woman. It's called "The Eyes of the Beholders" by A.C. Crispin and I don't own it. I also don't own the fic title, which comes from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams.
Parts of this are in Ten and Donna's POV, and parts are in Belle's.
*EDIT* Okay, I guess I should have explained this in more detail, and I'm sorry if I've confused people. What I mean by finger spelling is literally spelling words with the regular alphabet. It's the easiest I could come up with. When I was in high school, and we were learning about Helen Keller, my friends and I thought that's what the finger spelling was. I don't mean the sign language version of the alphabet. That's why all the characters can do it. I'll change the author note to the first oneshot to reflect this, and again, I'm sorry if it was confusing for people.
As always, I don't own Ten, Donna, or Doctor Who, the BBC does. I also don't own Wilf or Sylvia. Please read and enjoy...
It had been four weeks since Belle had joined the Doctor and Donna on the TARDIS. Rolling over in her bed (oh how she loved this bed), she stretched, and threw back the blankets. The TARDIS had been able to thoroughly clean the quilt of her mother’s, and this was on her bed. She stood carefully, and reached out for the wall next to her bed that would lead her to her bathroom. The Doctor and Donna had carefully arranged her room so that everything was accessible easily, and the TARDIS who liked to move things about, kept it in order, and refused to move this room. She went into the bathroom, disrobed and showered, enjoying the hot water that cascaded over her. She shampooed her now very short hair, washed her body and exited the shower, drying herself quickly. Putting her robe back on, she left her bathroom and felt her way to her desk where a tactile clock and calendar sat. It had been explained to her that the TARDIS was a ship that travelled through time, so the time wasn’t always correct. But to give her some sense of the concept, the Doctor had fashioned her a clock and a calendar that she could touch with her hands that was set to Donna’s home’s current time and date.
Belle ran her hands over the clock, realizing it was morning and she was later than she had been the day before. Getting up again, she went to her closet to get some clothes (her closet having been arranged by color and type of clothing item, and she had memorized this so as to avoid clashing). She chose jeans and a t-shirt, some socks, and her favorite shoes, Converse trainers identical to the Doctor’s. Feeling her way to another part of her room, where a body form stood, she carefully pulled off her newest addition to her wardrobe. This was a special tunic of sorts that was worn over the clothes. It looked like a spider’s web, but with tiny little sensors on it. These sensors sent faint images to the visual cortex of the brain through an implant, thus enabling a blind person to “see”. The Doctor had found it when they’d visited a planet with a humanoid population who had been attacked by a species who wanted to steal their medical technology. Once the planet was saved, the inhabitants offered their services to fit Belle with an implant and sensory web.
She was still getting used to it, having ghost like images show up in her brain when putting it on was startling. But she could move about with much more freedom than before.
The implant still gave her headaches, as it had only been put in a little over a week ago. That had been fun. When the doctors on the planet had told her they could help her to see a little, she hadn’t known there’d be surgery involved. Still, though, it was nice to sort of see. Granted there was no color, and everything was in shades of gray, along with white and black. People and objects also showed up as silver outlines with shimmers inside the outlines,that fluxed in the grayscale depending on heat levels. The higher the temperature of an object or person, the stronger the shimmer.
Once her sensory web was on, she moved to her door, opened it, and clapped, waiting for the TARDIS to acknowledge she was ready to go to the kitchen for breakfast. The web did help her “see” where she was going, but not everything showed up. So as she had since Belle was first brought on board, the TARDIS guided Belle with puffs of warm air, and subtle vibrations in the floor. If the puffs got cold, or the vibrations got stronger, Belle knew she was off course and turned around. Feeling the first puff of warm air, she turned left out of her room, and towards the kitchen.
Donna was finishing up getting breakfast ready, the Doctor sitting at the table sipping some tea, while looking over a screen that told him some of the repairs that were needed on the TARDIS. “Belle’s on her way,” he announced when he received a nudge in his mind from his ship.
“Bit late this morning isn’t she?” Donna commented.
“Eh, not really. Besides, it’s only been a week or so since we got her that sensory web, so she’s still adjusting.”
Donna looked up at the sound of shuffling, and smiled as Belle made her way over to them. She could “see” the shimmery outlines of the Doctor and Donna quite well as they were warm blooded and the web sensors picked up heat signatures with ease. People were the easiest to “see”. She gave her standard good morning greeting placing a hand on Donna’s and then the Doctor’s cheeks, then spelling “good morning” into their hands. The Doctor and Donna responded in kind, and Belle seated herself at the table.
Donna set a plate in front of her, and took her palm. “Toast at 12, eggs at 3, sausages at 9,” she spelled where the food was on the plate like the plate was a clock. “Orange juice to the left, three fingers from the plate.”
“Thank you, Miss Donna,” Belle spelled back, before taking her fork and slowly beginning to eat. She could “see” the food, plate, and glass, but they appeared as shimmery objects, and her hand-sensory web co-ordination was still a work in progress. She continued to eat, unaware of the conversation that had started between the Doctor and Donna, involving going to Earth and visiting Wilf and Sylvia.
“What on Earth is with her hair!?” Donna rolled her eyes at Sylvia’s exclamation. ‘It’s cut all rough,” Sylvia circled Belle who stood nervously in Donna’s mother’s living room. They’d only just gotten there, and already Sylvia was harping. First she’d “congratulated” Donna on managing to come see them after three months of being away. Then, she’d growled a greeting to the Doctor, before dropping her jaw at the sight of Belle. She seemed speechless, but since she was who she was, that wouldn’t do, so she blurted out the first thing that came to mind, which was the girl’s hair. “What did you do, take an outer space weed whacker to her head?”
“No, mum. We were more concerned with helping her get clean, and healthy rather than her looks.”
“Where did she come from? Is she an…alien like him?” Sylvia gestured at the Doctor.
“No, she’s entirely human. Comes from the 32nd century human colony of New Oregon,” the Doctor said.
“And you just…took her? Isn’t that kidnapping?”
“No, mum, we didn’t just take her,” Donna huffed. “She was an orphan living on the streets. We couldn’t leave her there.”
“No, of course you couldn’t,” Sylvia shook her head to emphasize the sarcasm in her statement. “And why is she standing there, just staring at the wall? And what is that ridiculous vest thing she’s wearing?”
Belle had been backing steadily up, away from Sylvia. She could feel the tension in the air, and it frightened her a little. The shimmer she recognized as Donna moved about, the shimmer next to her, moved just as much, and the force of the air movement from them indicated heightened emotions. She’d backed into the Doctor, relaxing slightly at his scent, and further at his hand gently laying on her shoulder.
Donna could see that Belle was getting upset, and she moved to the girl, taking her hand. “Go with the Doctor and my Gramps to the kitchen. They can get you some tea and biscuits if you like.”
“Yes please, Miss Donna,” Belle spelled back.
“Doctor, take her in the kitchen with Gramps. You can explain to him her situation, and get her some tea and biscuits.”
“Sounds excellent,” he took Belle’s hand and gestured to Wilf. “After you.”
Wilf nodded and led the way into the kitchen eager to hear about this strange girl and why she was with the Doctor and his granddaughter.
“Well?” Sylvia pressed once the others had left the room. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing is wrong with her. She’s a perfectly normal girl, mum,” Donna glared. “She just has some difficulties.”
“And they are?”
“She’s blind, deaf and mute. She wasn’t always, she said she got an illness when she was very young that took her sight, and hearing. The vest she’s wearing is a sensory web that sends images to her visual cortex via an implant placed there. And before you ask, no she doesn’t have anything that will help her hearing. The Doctor says there might be something we can have done for that, but right now getting used to the sensory web and implant is priority.”
“But you said she was an orphan who lived on the streets.”
“She was. He mother died a year ago, so we estimate. She had no concept of the passage of time when we met her.”
“How on Earth did she live on the streets? Didn’t anyone help her?” Sylvia was confused. “Who would leave a child, any child much less one with her disabilities on their own?”
“The colonists of New Oregon apparently. They didn’t stop us when we were talking to her, when we found her, and they didn’t care when we left with her.”
“Oh, that’s just sad,” Sylvia’s tone had turned sympathetic. Donna nodded her agreement and the two women fell silent.
“These are good biscuits, Mr. Doctor,” Belle spelled into the Doctor’s palm.
“They are. Would you like to thank Wilf?” he spelled back.
Belle nodded and got up to move towards the shimmer she was told was Wilf. The Doctor had told him about the girl and he was curious now. He watched as she took his hand and faced his palm upwards. “Thank you, Mr. Wilf for the biscuits. They were very good.” She spelled slowly. Donna and the Doctor had told her she should spell for Sylvia and Wilf slowly so they would understand.
“Doctor?” Wilf asked. “What do I do?”
“Did you get what she said?” at Wilf’s nod, he continued. “Spell back to her. Just don’t use contractions. They’re hard for her to decipher.”
Wilf looked at the girl who had her hand out, palm up expectantly. He took her hand, and like he’d seen Donna and the Doctor do, he carefully spelled letters into her palm. “You are welcome, my dear. You can have more if you would like.”
“No thank you, Mr. Wilf. I am full now,” she let go of his hand and returned to her chair. She faced the table, but had forgotten where her tea cup lay amongst the other dishes. Seeing her confusion, the Doctor reached out and took her hand. “Your tea cup is on the right, two fingers from your plate.” She “saw” the plate and when she placed her hand on the side of it, the object to the right was indeed her tea cup. Picking it up, she sipped her tea, leaning back in her chair, watching as Donna’s shimmer and the other person’s entered the room.
“I still want to know what you’re planning on doing with her hair,” Sylvia commented as they walked into the kitchen. “I mean look at it. It looks terrible.”
“Well, we were hoping you could get us into the salon you go to. But we can discuss this later. Would you like to officially meet Belle?” Donna led her mother towards the girl.
“I suppose so. If she’s staying with you, I might as well. How does she talk?”
“She spells words into your palm. Don’t use contractions though, like “don’t” and “can’t”. She has a hard time understanding those,” Donna gave her the same advice as the Doctor had given Wilf.
“Interesting,” Sylvia looked dubious.
Donna shook her head at her mother, before touching Belle’s cheek to get her attention. “Belle, I would like you to meet my mother, Sylvia,” she turned the girl towards her mother. Belle stood up, and faced the older woman, and reached out her hand. “Take her hand,” Donna instructed her mother, who did.
“I am glad to meet you Miss Sylvia,” Belle spelled slowly. “My name is Belle.”
“I am glad to meet you too, Belle,” Sylvia spelled back.
“You wear perfume, like Miss Donna does. You smell pretty.”
“She said I smell pretty,” Sylvia’s eyebrows raised.
“Well, she can’t see you clearly, or hear you, so all she has to identify you are smells and touch. Telling you, that you smell pretty is her way of giving you a compliment,” the Doctor said. “Eventually, she’ll grow to recognize your shimmer, and heat signature with the sensory web. She can already pick Donna and I out of a small group of people. Helps that my body temperature is lower than most species though.”
“Well what do I say to her?”
“Thank you would be a start,” Donna said with a touch of sarcasm.
“Look here, lady, I didn’t ask for your sarcasm.”
“No, but you got it anyway,” she gestured to Belle. “She’s waiting.”
Sylvia took Belle’s hand. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
“You are welcome,” Belle gave what she hoped was a smile, before pulling her hand free, going back to her chair, sitting down, and reaching for her tea cup again.
“About the salon, mum,” Donna began. “Do you think we can get Belle in?”
“Well, I say we take her right down there, and I’m sure they’ll do something. The girl’s hair looks as unruly and scraggly as his does,” she pointed to the Doctor.
“Hey. I like my hair,” the Doctor said. “It’s one of this regeneration’s best features I think.”
“Bully for you,” Sylvia muttered. “It’s not a good look for Belle,” she turned to leave the kitchen. “Well don’t just stand there, let’s get going. I assume the child has never been in a car before. She can sit in the front, you two in the back. Dad can stay here,” she ignored Wilf’s huff and went to gather her things.
“Where are we?” Belle nervously spelled into Donna’s hand as they entered the salon. She was still a little uncomfortable from the car ride and on the way back to Sylvia and Wilf’s she was taking off the sensory web. The car moved to fast for the web to send images other than blurs that made her dizzy and slightly nauseous.
“We are in a place to that will get your hair all fixed up.”
“But you and Mr. Doctor did that already.”
“Well, it needs some more fixing up. Is this alright?”
“You are going to stay with me?”
“Of course,” Donna squeezed her hand in reassurance.
“That is just weird. Can’t you speak out loud when you’re talking to her?” Sylvia groused.
“Mum. Not here,” Donna pleaded.
“Fine. I’ll just go get her set up, then shall I?”
Belle didn’t like this one bit. Her hair had to be washed for the cut, and the sensory web taken off to protect it. She was in the dark once again, and in a strange place, but there was a small bit of comfort in the fact that she could smell Donna’s perfume, and felt Donna’s hand in hers. When she was led to a chair and helped to sit, then tipped back, she felt her throat tighten meaning she was making noises. “It is alright sweetheart,” she felt Donna spell into her hand. “The nice lady is just going to wash your hair.” Belle nodded and squeezed Donna’s hand, trying to keep her panic down.
She felt fingers working through her hair, and smelled the shampoo and conditioner and noted the different smell from her own. The warm water sprayed over her head was relaxing a little, but she wouldn’t deny she felt some relief when she was sat up and a towel placed on her head. She felt Donna help her up out of the chair and lead her to another chair, where she was seated once again. A comb was run through quickly, and Donna spelled for her to sit as still as she could. She could feel something draped over her, and fastened around her neck, which caused some panic, but again, Donna reassured her she was alright and nothing bad was happening.
As her hair was tugged, combed and trimmed, Donna told her she was going to use the restroom and would be right back. The Doctor was there, and would take care of her. Belle nodded when she smelled the Doctor’s cologne. He didn’t hold her hand, though as she had moved hers under the thing that was draped over her. When the cut was over, she felt the thing removed, and unfamiliar hands trying to move her out of the chair. She tried to move away, but the hands gripped her tighter. Where was the Doctor? Wasn’t Donna back yet? She shoved the hands away, her throat tightening and beginning to burn a little. In her panic, she felt herself crash into something hard with her head and her throat burned more.
Then hands grabbed her again, and she flailed, but then through the panic she smelled the Doctor’s cologne once more, and she reached out towards the scent. She felt herself lifted up, and knew it was him. Cuddling into his arms, she shoved her face into his neck, but jumped when another hand grabbed one of hers, but at the spelling in her palm, she knew it was Donna. The spelling of words in her palm, and the vibrations of the Doctor humming, served to settle her, and soon she relaxed, but she refused to be dislodged from the Doctor’s arms.
The Doctor had seen Belle begin to panic when the stylist and her assistant went to help her out of the chair. Donna had gone to the restroom, and he had been standing next to the chair, but had moved to give the stylist more room to fix Belle’s hair. When they’d touched her, after taking off the smock, the unfamiliar scents and touches caused Belle to push them away, whimpers soon turning to shrieks when they kept approaching her. He tried to get to her, but the stylist and her assistant kept getting in the way. Finally, he just pushed them out of the way and bent down after she hit her head against the counter, and lifted her into his arms. He could hear Donna coming from the bathroom asking what was going on, and he avoided looking at her, fearing she might be a little angry at the situation.
He chose to cuddle Belle close and hum to her, knowing she’d be able to feel the vibrations. Donna took Belle’s hand and spelled soothing words into her palm. They could both feel her relax and both could sense her unwillingness to let go of the Doctor, or Donna’s hand.
Sylvia had seen the whole thing, and just handed the receptionist her credit card, knowing the Doctor and Donna wanted to take Belle and go home. Once out to the car, she held up the sensory web, and asked if they wanted it back on Belle, but they said not right now, and placed her carefully in the backseat next to the Doctor. Donna got in the front. As the car pulled away, she demanded to know what had happened. The Doctor explained, all the while keeping a hold of Belle, who was leaning against his shoulder.
Once back at the house, and having told Wilf all about what happened at the salon, Sylvia got some dinner going, and they ate mostly in silence, after telling Belle where things were on her plate and where other items in her place setting were.
“So,” Sylvia broke the silence. “You’re planning on raising this child then, are you? As in be her mother and father.”
Donna nodded. “Yeah. We are, I guess.”
“You guess? You can’t guess about something like that. This is a child, not a toy you play with for a while. You can’t just set her aside when you’re bored.”
“Mother!” Donna shouted. “How could you even think we’d think something like that. She’s been with us for a month now, and I can’t imagine the TARDIS or our lives without her. She’s as near to a daughter as I could hope to have, and I know the Doctor feels the same way,” she looked at him.
“Absolutely,” he rested his hand on Belle’s shoulder to relax her. Her web was back on and she’d “seen” Donna’s shimmer move rapidly, and felt tension in the air again. “She will stay with us, and she’ll be our daughter.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t get all defensive. But are you sure this is a good idea. After all, trouble seems to seek you out almost daily.”
“We were worried about her safety, yes, but the TARDIS does look out for her remarkably well. And we don’t take her out in situations we aren’t comfortable in. We’re not stupid,” Donna gave her mother a glare. She really didn’t want to get into an argument with Sylvia, instead she changed the subject to ask Wilf if he was going up the hill that night. His response was immediate, and affirmative, so they moved to clean up, fix a thermos of tea, and after getting a book of Belle’s that had raised print and was helping her learn Braille, the five of them headed up the hill, to sit back and watch the stars.
They’d been up there for an hour or so, looking at the sky, while the Doctor and Wilf pointed out constellations, and focused on objects with the telescope, and Belle sat with her book, her fingers tracing the raised print letters, then below them, the Braille translation. Sylvia had asked what the book was about, and really shouldn’t have been surprised that it was about space. The Doctor had explained what the book talked about, and that it had raised drawings to help describe planets, moons, space rocks, and other things. He said Belle had a similar one about Earth nature, and he and the TARDIS had gone to great lengths to make one that did the same about Gallifrey. Even though Gallifrey wasn’t there anymore, he wanted her to know about it. Books on other species would be coming soon.
“What do you hope to accomplish with these books?” Sylvia asked. “What do you hope to teach her?”
“Well,” he began. “We want to show her these things.”
“But she can’t see. You can’t show her anything.”
“But she can feel them. She can smell them. With the sensory web she can “see” images of them. Someday we hope we’ll be able to have something done for her hearing. Until then, this is what we have to work with, and so far it’s been brilliant.”
“But what are you trying to do for her though?” Sylvia was persistent.
“We’re trying to show her what every child, every person, every sentient species deserves to learn and be shown. Life. The universe. And…well…everything.”